La Gaceta De Mexico - Ecuadorans teargassed at demos that military deems 'grave threat'

Ecuadorans teargassed at demos that military deems 'grave threat'
Ecuadorans teargassed at demos that military deems 'grave threat' / Photo: © AFP

Ecuadorans teargassed at demos that military deems 'grave threat'

Police used tear gas Tuesday to disperse hundreds of Ecuadorans protesting in the capital Quito on the ninth day of Indigenous-led fuel price protests that the military described as a "grave threat."

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Some 500 protesters among thousands who arrived in the capital from around the country in recent days blockaded a key road with burning tree branches.

Dispersed with tear gas, they quickly regrouped to march with watery eyes on the CCE culture center -- traditionally used by Indigenous people to launch protests but requisitioned by police on Sunday to use as a base.

"The objective of today is to retake the Casa de la Cultura," protester Wilson Mazabanda told AFP before police used mace for a second time to break up the group.

Earlier Tuesday, Defense Minister Luis Lara said Ecuador's democracy "faces a grave threat from... people who are preventing the free movement of the majority of Ecuadorans" with widespread road blockades.

Flanked by the heads of the army, navy and air force, Lara warned that the armed forces "will not allow attempts to break the constitutional order or any action against democracy and the laws of the republic."

Called by the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), demonstrations since June 13 have seen roads barricaded nationwide at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy.

Dozens of people have been injured.

- 'Tired of this government' -

Conaie -- credited with helping topple three presidents between 1997 and 2005 -- called the demonstrations as Ecuadorans increasingly struggle to make ends meet.

Indigenous people comprise more than a million of Ecuador's 17.7 million inhabitants and wield much political clout, but are disproportionately affected by rising inflation, unemployment and poverty exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Conaie has vowed to maintain the protests until its demands are met.

Thousands of fresh protesters entered Quito from the south and north on Monday, after often long journeys on foot and on the backs of trucks.

They took to the streets afresh on Tuesday, burning tires and tree branches, some wielding sticks, fireworks and makeshift shields made of road signs or garbage can lids.

"We are already tired of this government," said protester Mazabanda, a university student, of ex-banker President Guillermo Lasso's one-year-old term.

- State of emergency -

Fuel prices have risen sharply since 2020, almost doubling for diesel from $1 to $1.90 per gallon and rising from $1.75 to $2.55 for gasoline.

Conaie is demanding a price cut to $1.50 a gallon for diesel and $2.10 for gasoline.

It also wants jobs, food price controls and a commitment to renegotiating the personal bank loans of about four million families.

The movement has since been joined by students, workers and other Ecuadorans feeling the economic pinch.

Police said on Monday that 63 armed forces personnel have been wounded in clashes and 21 others briefly held hostage since the protests began, while human rights observers reported 79 arrests and 55 civilians wounded.

Lasso on Monday extended a state of emergency to cover six of the country's 24 provinces, with a night-time curfew in the capital Quito, as he sought to curtail the countrywide show of anger.

The state of emergency empowers Lasso to mobilize the armed forces to maintain order, suspend civil rights and declare curfews.

Conaie has vowed to maintain its blockade until the government meets its demands.

- 'They seek chaos' -

The president said in a video on Twitter Monday that the protesters "do not want peace" and have rejected government calls for dialogue.

"They seek chaos. They want to eject the president," he charged.

Ecuador was losing about $50 million a day as a result of the protests, official figures show, without counting oil production -- the country's main export product.

State-owned Petroecuador has reported almost 64,300 barrels in lost production because of more than 230 wells shuttered by demonstrations in the Amazon.

Ecuador's parliament voted 81 to 56 late Monday in favor of a resolution urging the government to conduct a "serious, clear and honest" dialogue with protesters.

It also proposed the convening of a "round table" of talks including the United Nations, Red Cross, universities and the powerful Catholic Church to find a solution to the stalemate.

In 2019, Conaie-led protests left 11 people dead and more than 1,000 injured but forced then-president Lenin Moreno to abandon plans to eliminate fuel subsidies.